Alcohol Rehab Throughout History: How Has It Changed?

Alcohol has been a part of human culture since the dawn of time, and the abuse of alcohol followed shortly thereafter. For generations, societies have struggled to find the balance between alcohol’s place in daily life, and doing something about the individual problems it can cause. Let’s take a look at what alcohol rehab looked like in the past, and how much it has changed compared to the present.

1750–Early 1800s

Alcoholic mutual aid societies and sobriety circles provided early recovery from 1750 to early 1800s. These groups were originally composed of various Native American tribes, and some evolved into abstinence-based Native American revival movements. Native Americans used native healing practices treating alcoholism.


Lodging Homes and Homes for the Fallen (inebriate homes) opened in the 1850s. These homes provided direct, voluntary stays that included non-medical detoxification, isolation from drinking culture, moral reframing, and immersion in newly formed sobriety fellowships. The first inebriate homes opened in Boston and were modeled after state-operated insane asylums.

The New York State Inebriate Asylum opened in 1864 under the direction of Dr. Joseph Edward Turner. It was the first medically monitored addiction treatment center in the U.S. and is considered the first alcohol rehab center.


Charles B. Towns Hospital opened in 1901. Charles Towns, in collaboration with Dr. Alexander Lambert, opened this New York City substance abuse hospital in 1901, which treated affluent alcoholics with its famous belladonna elixir. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was a patient at Charles B. Towns Hospital 4 times. The cost of treatment was $350 a day, equivalent to $5,610 today.

Wilson received the Towns Hospital’s version of the Belladonna treatment, which had emerged as a cutting-edge addiction treatment in 1900 and became the dominant method in public and private hospitals by the 1920s. Per its name, the treatment was derived from alkaloids of the belladonna and henbane plants in the nightshade family, which was used for millennia as poison, cosmetic enhancement, and hallucinogen. They were known to be potent, psychoactive, and potentially fatal.

Alcoholics Anonymous formed in 1935. The 4 founding members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) were: Bill Wilson, Ebby Thatcher, Rowland Hazard, and Dr. Bob Smith. They were highly influenced by the pioneers of the Emmanuel Movement. Wilson and Dr. Bob were both alcoholics in the 1930s, unable to achieve sustained abstinence despite their Christian faith, which heavily influenced the creation of the 12 steps. The meeting between Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1935 marked the formation of AA, and the famous blue book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was published in 1939.

Disulfiram and other drugs are used to treat alcoholism (1948-1950). Disulfiram, otherwise known as Antabuse, was introduced in the U.S. as a supplemental treatment for alcoholism. Antabuse created feelings of nausea and unpleasant reactions to alcohol. Other drugs used to treat alcoholism during this time included barbiturates, amphetamines, and LSD.


The Veterans Administration established alcoholism treatment units in 1957. The Veteran’s Health Administration began developing alcoholism treatment units within its national network of VA hospitals.

Halfway House Association was founded in 1958. The halfway house movement peaked in 1958 with the founding of the Association of Halfway House Alcoholism Programs of North America. Halfway houses provided safe, recovery-focused housing for individuals who were suffering from substance abuse problems.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety and Rational Recovery founded (1985-1986). Former serious problem drinker James Christopher founded Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) in the mid-80s. Around the same time, recovered alcoholic Jack Trimpey founded Rational Recovery. These programs emphasize rational decision-making, not spirituality.

SMART Recovery founded (1994). SMART Recovery is a non-12-step program focused on self-empowerment. The program teaches skills for self-directed change and helps users cope with urges and manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can drive addiction.

Naltrexone approved for alcoholism (1994). In late 1994, naltrexone became the second drug the FDA approved for alcoholism. Naltrexone is non-addictive and does not react with alcohol. It blocks opioid receptors in the brain, preventing the pleasurable effects.


The FDA approves buprenorphine for clinical use (2002). In 2002, the FDA approved buprenorphine, a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction. Unlike methadone, dispensed with in a structured clinic, specially qualified physicians can prescribe buprenorphine.

Most Effective Treatment for Alcohol in the Present

As you can see, there have been many drastic changes when it comes to alcohol abuse treatment. But what forms of treatment are popular today that are proven to be effective?

Holistic Treatment: The philosophy behind holistic programs is that all three areas of health (mind, body and spirit) are treated. This means that if there is a disease in one area, it will negatively affect the other two areas. A holistic rehab program strives to heal all three areas so that an individual can remain sober even after all primary issues that influence substance abuse are successfully resolved.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This is a short-range, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment focusing on a practical, hands-on approach to problem-solving. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to alter patterns of behavior and the thinking that is behind an individual’s difficulties. Ideally, this also alters the way that the individual thinks. The therapy is utilized to help treat various issues, including relationship problems, sleeping difficulties, anxiety, depression and alcohol or drug abuse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment: We use FDA-approved medications in conjunction with evidence-based therapies for MAT. The SAMHSA determined medication-assisted treatment is an effective way to treat addiction as it may even assist recovering users to remain in treatment for longer periods of time. This helps extend over all phases of sobriety and paves the way for a triumphant recovery.

Activity-Based Therapy: This form of therapy fully encourages patients to explore various other outlets, especially those that are physical—weightlifting, sports, etc.—to assist patients in coping with the multiple changes that they will be going through during their addiction treatment.

Various studies have reported that complementary therapies, like music and exercise, are beneficial to treating addiction to drugs and alcohol. In some cases, activity-based therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse.

These are just a few examples of treatment methods that can effectively treat alcoholism that Shadow Mountain Recovery is proud to offer to our patients. Our team is standing by, ready to help you learn more about how our addiction rehabilitation program can help you or a loved one today. Don’t hesitate to get in touch by giving us a call at: 505-657-2117, or you can contact us via email or text today.

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